Chapter 63620312

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Chapter NumberXV
Chapter TitleMAURICE ON THE HORNS OF A DILEMMA.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63620312
Full Date1886-10-16
Page Number0
Corrections0
Word Count3274
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleIllustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)
Trove TitleSociety, Friendship and Love
article text

CHAPTER XV.

MAURICE ON THE HORNS OF A DILEMMA.

. " It is good to be merry and wise,

It is good to be honest and true,

lt is good to be off with the old love Before you are on with the new."

IT was not, perhaps, to be expected that Mr. Gower should pass a very comfortable night. He did not attempt to go to bed, but spent the time in walking up and down his room, to the intense annoyance of his next door neighbour, a wake

ful old gentleman who had not been in love himself for the last fifty years, and who attributed this untimely nocturnal promenade to a very bad conscience.

* Perhaps he was not far wrong. Nothing is so likely to

arouse remorse as the knowledge that our fellow creatures will condemn us, and while Maurice's conscience was not so absolutely clear as it might have been, he was pretty sure that, to the world, his conduct would seem to be dyed in very black colours indeed. For whatever he might say to himself of Dorothea, that she was cold, unreasonable, artful, that she was secretly in love with Walter Griinleigh, and only biding her own time to free herself from a hateful bond, that his last quarrel with her had been a final one, still the fact remained that he was engaged to her, and in the teeth of that engagement he had avowed his love for her cousin. No explanations that he could offer could justify such a course, and even should it escape the eyes of the world, it was not easy to decide upon the next step which he should take. Break off his engagement with Dorothea 1 But the

first step must come from her, and supposing she chose to keep him dangling like a fish at the end of a hook a little longer ? And even if she released him at once, would Mar- garet accept au affection so abruptly transferred to her ? Could he ask her to make herself a target for all the spite and malevolence of the Grimleighs and their friends ? And had he any sufficient ground for supposing that she would, under any circumstances, return his love? Had he exag- gerated the significance of that one look, that cry of terror ? Had her feeling only been friendship after all ?

So he tortured himself all through the night, and the next morning he went as early as he dared to Oaklands, not with any definite design, but rather with the hope that something would happen to guide him out of the labyrinth into which he had walked. The servants told him that Miss Broad- hurst was in the drawing room, and into that room he walked, supposing that he should find her alone. It was empty, however, but the French windows stood wide open, shewing the flight of steps which led from the verandah to the terrace below, and on these steps sat Dorothea, with Walter Grimleigh at her feet, holding her hand in both of. his. Nothing could better have suited Maurice's purpose, nevertheless his first movement was one of anger, and he forgot, for the moment, his own faithlessness, in disgust at this fresh evidence of Dorothea's. She quickly caught sight of him, and sprang to her feet. " Let us go in," she said to Walter, " and please do not leave us alone, or we shall have

a scene."

" But will it not look odd ? " suggested Walter, who was only waiting to declare his feelings till Dorothea's engage- ment should be actually broken off ; and who, to tell the truth, waa considerably mystified that she chose to take so long in the process.

"Well then, please ask mother to come, or the boys, or anyone ; I really am not in spirits to encounter him alone."

"Will you come out here, or shall 1 come in to you?"

she called out in the most cheerful of tones.

" I shall be glad if you will come here for a moment," he said, coldly.

"Oh! certainly!" and she came tripping along the verandah, and offered him her cheek to kiss in the most matter-of-fact way in the world. He appeared not to notice it, and just touched her hand instead.

" Take care of my poor hand," she cried, " I have had a fearful thorn in it, and Mr. Grimleigh has been taking it put

for me."

" So I perceived," said Maurice. "If he can spare you now for a few moments, I sbonld like two or three minutes' conversation with you."

" What can you mean ? What has he to do with our con- versation ? You may talk to me for as long as you like. Ah ! here is mother. Mother ! " she called out, " do you see that Maurice has actually come to see us."

"Dorothea, can I see you for a few minutes alone?" said Maurice. " What I have to say will be better said in private."

" But I cannot ask mother to go out of her own drawing

room."

"Then pray let us go somewhere else."

" My dear Maurice, it will look so strange. Pray put off your mysterious communication to another day, and let us now all be pleasant together. Shall we play teunis?"

" By all means, play with Walter Grimleigh if you are so minded. As for me, I came to see you and to see you alone for a particular purpose. If you refuse to speak to me except in the presence of your mother and Grimleigh, I can only bid you good-bye, and say what I have to say in a letter."

"├čeally, Maurice, you are very mysterious. However, good-bye, if you must go. Mind you come again soon."

"What did he want?" said Mrs. Broadhurst to her daughter. Walter Grimleigh had remained discreetly on

the verandah.

"Eeally, mother, I do not know ; but he was evidently out of temper and we should have had a scene, and perhaps it might have gone too far. I am afraid it will come to that at last, but I do not want any violence over it ; it will be so much better for us both to let the thing die quietly, and I do not want to drive him to do anything desperate."

Apparently Mrs. Broadhurst understood this ambiguous speech, for she nodded her head in acquiescence. " I sup- pose Margaret will not remain here more than a week or so,

and after that-"

" Yes, mother ; after that I hope everything will be more quiet. But see, is not this Mabel coming down the drive ? What brings her here so early ? " and she went out to meet

her friend.

" My darling Dolly," cried Miss Grimleigh, " I could not rest till I had told you everything. The treachery of your cousin and the folly of Maurice passes all belief. Come into the house, and I will tell you what Mr. Fitzalan and I saw yesterday. Mrs. Broadhurst, you must hear it too, and Walter, I am sure he will sympathise. What do you suppose those two were doing yesterday during the thunderstorm ? "

" What two ? " asked Walter Grimleigh.

" What two ? Why that poor goose Maurice Gower, and that artful piece of mock virtue, Miss Latimer-"

" I say, Mabel, draw it mild," interposed her brother. " If anyone is to blame, I should say it is Gower, not Miss

Latimer."

" What were they doing ?" asked Dorothea, with wide open eyes and an expression of deep distress for what might be coming.

" Making love, I suppose. First he went to Mrs. Guise, then she went half-an-hour later, evidently to meet him, then she came back alone, wet through and looking queer, then he followed, if possible still wetter and still queerer ; the thing was as evident as possible. "

"I really do not see it," said Walter. "They may have met at Mrs. Guise's, as you say, but they do not seem either to have gone there or come back together ; consequently I should be inclined to suppose that the meeting was a chance

one."

" That is soon ascertained," said Dorothea, rising with tearful eyes but a composed manner. " I will go myself and ask Margaret what it all means ; she used to have some sense of honour, and perhaps she will tell me the truth."

" Yes," said Walter, "that is the way to take it. But it will not distress you much, I hope, whichever way it turns out," he said in a lower tone.

" No, except that I cannot bear to think that my cousin is treacherous," she answered sadly, and to such an amiable sentiment it was impossible to take any exception.

So she went to put on her hat and set off alone to Mr. Powell's, intending to speak strongly to Margaret for her own good, and not doubting that Maurice had amused himself with her cousin to relieve the tedium occasioned by her own displeasure. " He can have meant nothing by it," she had said to her mother, " but men sometimes do such strange things from pique that we must be on our guard.

I could not feel myself justified in allowing Margaret to accept such dubious attentions from him any more than I should feel justified in myself marrying a man whose character does not inspire me with perfect confidence."

" You show a great deal more consideration for Margaret than she deserves," answered the fond mother, " and of course Maurice never would think seriously of her."

Meanwhile, Maurice himself had gone to Mr. Powell's, and had asked to see Miss Latimer. She dared not refuse his request for fear of exciting remark, but went into him, looking so pale, calm and determined, that he perforce grew

calm too.

"Why do you want to see me?" she asked, without offering her hand, or making the least sign of welcome.

" Are you ill after the storm and wetting ?" he said, looking ruefully into her pale face, in which the lines of trouble showed plainer than yesterday.

"No, thank you-but did you come here to ask me that ? It was quite unnecessary."

" My God !" he cried, " do not speak to me in that tone. Margaret, I have been to see Dorothea, and I found her with Grimleigh at her feet, caressing her hand ; she refused to see me except in his presence."

' ' I am sorry for your quarrel with her, but you must see that it is out of my power to interfere any more in the

matter."

" I do not ask you to interfere in it. I am perfectly contented with it as it stands, and before I came here 1 wrote to her offering to break an engagement which she treats with contempt. Do not look incredulous, Margaret. I am not a liar, and, last night, could you not see ? Had you eyes ? Grimleigh sits by her, Grimleigh whispers in her ear, lies at her feet, caresses her hand, takes her into the garden, gives her advice, has as many private interviews as he pleases ; and she has put me on a different footing since the day of the Fiery Brand. She made me jealous enough, God knows, before that, but she did not go the length of refusing to speak to me alone, of allowing another man to make love to her under my very eyes, of treating my opinions with open contempt, and at once deferring to his. You are generally clear-sighted ; is it possible that you can really believe such an astounding absurdity as that your cousin has any regard left for me ?"

" I am not in a position to judge," said Margaret, " but it is nothing to do with me either way. As I said before, I am sorry if you have quarrelled, but I am quite unable to help you."

" And I tell you that I want no help, and that I am glad ; thankful to be free again, to be able to offer to you the love which Miss Broadhurst has treated with such contempt. If you choose to despise it, what more can I do ?"

" You are not free, Mr. Gower, and if you were-"

" If I were ?" he repeated, with a look of such anxious entreaty in her eyes, that her own fell and she turned her head away.

" If you were, I should still make the same answer-you can never be anything more to me than a friend."

He turned as white as a sheet, and caught hold of a high backed chair which stood near. Margaret, remembering his former faintness, and its cause, grew pale too. What if he had made light of his weakness, and there was something more seriously wrong? Horrible stories of men falling down suddenly dead, after being much excited, crossed her mind. Did not his lips look grey? "Are you ill?" she cried, anxiously, and as she spoke the door opened suddenly

and Dorothea stood before them.

His cheeks grew as red as they had before been pale, but Margaret turned quietly to meet her cousin. " Mr. Gower does not seem well," she said, "and uncle Dunstan is out. You are just come in time."

" So it appears," said Dolly, sharply. " I am fortunate in finding you together ; I came to speak to you, Margaret, but it seems there is something to be said to Maurice also. If you are engaged with him, pray do not let me interrupt you. What I have to say will wait. "

" I do not understand your tone," said Margaret. " You can scarcely have anything to say to me that justifies it ; and if you wish to speak to Mr. Gower, I will leave you

alone with him."

She moved towards the door, but Dorothea stopped her. "You shall not go," she cried, with sudden passion. " You shall not throw dust in my eyes with your virtuous pretences. I was warned against you, but I would not listen. Fool that I was, I trusted you."

"Dorothea! are you mad!" exclaimed Margaret, but Maurice promptly interfered.

" Did you come here to attack Miss Latimer or me ? If we are to have another scene, let us, in common decency, have it outside this house ; if you have any cause of quarrel with your cousin, I will go away and leave you to discuss ic with her, for you can have nothing to say to her that

concerns me."

"Indeed!" said Dorothea, whose voice trembled with rage. " I suppose then it is nothing to me that you walk together and talk together, that she makes love to you-"

"Dorothea!" cried Margaret. "Do you know what you are saying ?"

" Suppose that instead of offering gross insults to Miss Latimer, you confine yourself to me. I am quite ready to hear my offences, but you have not the slightest foundation for saying that she has had any part iu them. However, if you insist on a general scene, let us send for Walter Grimleigh and complete the party. Miss Latimer, I am very sorry to have brought this upon you. "

"Will you look me in the face and swear that he has never made love to you ?" cried Dorothea, turning to Margaret. Margaret changed colour, and hesitated ; she could not utter the lie though everyone's peace depended

on it.

"You have altered the nature of your charge," said Maurice, bitterly. ' ' You want to know the truth ; then listen to it. I am not meek and humble enough to adore a lady who plainly shows me that my love and my feelings are a matter of sublime indifference to her, nor have I perseverance enough to contest the honours with Walter Grimleigh. You told me that you had been advised to give me up, and you practically showed me that you meant to act upon that advice. If you were as honest as your cousin you would confess that you have put Grimleigh above me for many a long day. This morning I came to you for a final settlement of an affair which is utterly wearisome to every one concerned in it ; you refused to see me except with your new admirer as a witness, so that I was reduced to writing my offer to set you free. That letter will reach you this afternoon. Then I came here to see Miss Latimer, chiefly with the hope of ascertaining whether I had any chance of winning her regard when our engagement should be formerly dissolved. She refused to listen to a word I had to say ; she supposed that our estrangement was a mere

quarrel, and recommended me to make it up. She had just been at some pains to assure me that she could not, under any circumstances, consider me as anything more than a friend, when you appeared, most appropriately, on the scene. You can, at least, confirm my statement that you will gladly hail anything which sets you free from a hateful engagement. "

It would be difficult to describe all the feelings which were contending in Dorothea's mind while he spoke. She had certainly ceased to love him, perhaps never had really loved him, as she was inclined to love Walter Grimleigh ; she knew that what he spoke was truth ; in the depth of her heart she felt that Margaret was blameless, yet she hated her cousin as she had never hated any human being before, and she had never been so near an absolute passion for Maurice as now when he coolly told her that she had worn out his. Regret, jealousy, fury and hatred were all struggling for the mastery in that gentle breast and lovely face. " You are right," she gasped, "I would not for the world hold you to a promise which you despise. And for you," she went on, turning to Margaret, *' I compliment you on the ingenuity with which you lay your plots, so as to come unscathed through them all. Mabel Grimleigh read you well. But be happy, 1 will not stand between you and your desires. Mr. Gower, I return you the ring which you gave me when I, like a weak fool, believed you the soul of truth and honour. You are free to give it to my cousin, and to all the world if you please." So saying, she tore off her engagement ring and fairly flung it in his face. It hit him on the temple and then bounded on to the floor, where it lay undisturbed.

He turned to Margaret, but she was gone. At the door she almost ran against two people who stood aside to let her pass, wondering at her strange face and manner ; Maurice made his escape through the open window, and Mr. Powell and his son Charley entering the room together, found it deserted by everyone but Dorothea, who had cast herself in a picturesque attitude on the floor, and was uttering, at intervals, low heart-broken moans.